Would Going Ugly Work for You

Can You Make Ugly Work for You?

Jeff Brooks at Future Fundraising Now blogged today about some email fundraising lessons from the Obama campaign shared in Bloomberg Businessweek, one of which is that ugly emails work better than pretty ones. Quoting here:

“Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty ‘Donate’ buttons. Eventually we got to thinking, ‘How could we make things even less attractive?’ That’s how we arrived at the ugly yellow highlighting on the sections we wanted to draw people’s eye to.” ~  Amelia Showalter, director of digital analytics

This was sweet music to Jeff’s ears, as he is also an advocate of ugly communications. He devotes a whole section of his new book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications,
(which I highly recommend, review post coming soon) to “plain, corny, and obvious” design.

Put your personal preferences and aesthetics aside. If it works, it works, right?

Fine, yes, but here’s the thing: Don’t use this an excuse to go cheap and do-it-yourself on all of your publications.  I can just see executive directors around the country jumping up and down with glee about how it’s now OK to produce a bunch of crappy looking stuff.

Let me say this: There is a huge — massive — difference between ugly yet highly functional, simple, user friendly design and ugly because-you-really-have-no-idea-what-you-are-doing, and what you have produced is a nightmarish mess that few people will take the time to wade through. Ugly but clear = yes. Ugly but puzzling = no.

I also want to point out what I think is an even more important lesson in the article, quoting again with my bold added, after a note about profanity working well too:

But these triumphs were fleeting. There was no such thing as the perfect e-mail; every breakthrough had a shelf life. “Eventually the novelty wore off, and we had to go back and retest,” says Showalter.

Lesson for 2013: Invest in a good email marketing tool that allows you to easily test, and build testing into your editorial calendar so you can learn what works for you, get the most out of the breakthroughs for your organization (ugly or otherwise) and then move on. It’s not easy, but it will be worth it.


Ugly Vulture by BigStock